The Texas Weekly Hot List

For our list of the most competitive races in Texas congressional and legislative elections, we lifted the color scheme from the inventors of the federal terror watch, ranking races by the threat to each incumbent, to the incumbent party, or just by the level of interest and heat generated.

Yellow means there's trouble on the sidewalk. Orange is trouble on the front porch. Red is trouble walking in the door.

Incumbents' names are indicated by an (i). An asterisk (*) indicates an open seat, and those are rated by the apparent competitiveness of top candidates (closer = hotter). This is certainly and intentionally subject to argument, and we'll revise and adjust as the March 4 primary approaches. Let us know what you think.

Changes this week: Elevated HD-115 to orange.


A Judicial Appointment Leads to Unlikely Rift

State Rep. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, and Rep. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, in the House on June 27, 2011.
State Rep. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, and Rep. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, in the House on June 27, 2011.

An unlikely rift between Gov. Rick Perry and two normally staunch allies — state Sen. Larry Taylor and Texans for Lawsuit Reform — opened this week over a judicial appointment in Taylor's district.

It's considered a normal practice to defer to the hometown senator if he or she objects to an appointment. But Perry chose to disregard the custom in naming Bret Griffin of Friendswood to the 212th District Court. Both Taylor and TLR were backing another person, Patricia Grady, for the post and made their displeasure loudly known in a series of statements released to the media.

Taylor and TLR also seized on Griffin's close connections with Tony Buzbee, a high-profile trial lawyer who also happens to be close enough to Perry to be given a seat on the Texas A&M University System's board of regents.

It would be interesting to know why Perry chose to antagonize a lawmaker and an organization who are normally close to the governor. The temptation, of course, is to read this as another example of how Perry acts when he knows he'll never have to protect an agenda in a legislative session ever again.

If that's the case, Perry wasn't giving the game away with his response to Taylor's criticisms earlier this week. A spokeswoman for the governor said, "The governor appoints individuals who are qualified and willing to serve, and makes decisions in the best interests of Texans."

One thing, though, can be said with certainty: Don't look for Taylor to be block-walking for Perry in Iowa anytime soon.


The 30-day campaign reports aren't due until next week, but GOP comptroller candidate Glenn Hegar decided he wanted to get a jump on his competitors by releasing his top-line fundraising numbers a week early. In roughly three weeks of fundraising activity since Jan. 1, Hegar raised $262,000, leaving $2.7 million in his campaign account.


In the race for railroad commissioner, GOP candidate Ryan Sitton made a splash this week with the release of a list of endorsements filled with Republican activist and oil and gas heavyweights. The big names on the oil and gas side include former gubernatorial candidate Clayton Williams, Rich Kinder of Kinder Morgan Energy, Don Jordan of Reliant Energy and T. Boone Pickens.

On the activist side, Sitton has the support of Steve Hotze of the Conservative Republicans of Texas and Terry Lowry of The Link Letter.

Sitton is in a crowded field that includes a former state representative beloved by grassroots conservatives (Wayne Christian), an oil and gas investor who has also racked up an impressive list of endorsements (Malachi Boyuls) and an oil and gas engineer who has run for railroad commissioner before (Becky Berger).

BGTX and Icepocalypse Factor in HD-50 Runoff

Candidates for HD-50, Mike VanDeWalle (R) and Celia Israel (D)
Candidates for HD-50, Mike VanDeWalle (R) and Celia Israel (D)

In the first round of voting in the HD-50 special election, Mike VanDeWalle, the sole Republican in the contest, came in first with 39 percent of the vote. Read another way, that meant that 61 percent backed a Democratic candidate. That ratio held in the runoff election, which concluded amid the Austin icepocalypse on Tuesday.

Celia Israel — who beat out two other Democrats to make the runoff — won easily with more than 59 percent of the vote. The weather certainly did not help VanDeWalle. Icy conditions interfered with the last day of early voting on the Friday before election day. Conditions were even worse on Tuesday, leading to the closure of eight polling places.

But VanDeWalle had his work cut out for him from the get-go. The district was drawn to lean Democratic, and it has trended even bluer recently. Also, the special election became something of a coming-out party for Battleground Texas, the voter turnout effort intended to increase Democratic strength in the Lone Star State. The group, which was founded by a couple of veterans of the Obama turnout machine, blockwalked for Israel and was quick to trumpet her victory on Tuesday evening.

Could VanDeWalle do better with the BGTX, weather and special election factors removed from the electoral equation? We'll find out in November as the two are slated to meet in the general election.


We are still waiting on a date for the immigration debate between GOP lite guv candidate Dan Patrick and San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro. An improbable product of a Twitter exchange, the two agreed to meet in person in San Antonio late last week. But as of Thursday, a date had not been finalized.

For those interested, here's the latest update. Via Twitter, naturally:


Then on Thursday evening came this exchange:




Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate David Alameel has added an endorsement from lite guv candidate Leticia Van de Putte to an earlier endorsement from gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis. The decision to endorse by Davis in a contested party primary drew criticism from some quarters among Texas Democrats. SDEC member Rosalie Weisfeld, for instance, described Alameel as "an enemy within our ranks" in a fundraising letter for Maxey Scherr, another Democratic candidate for U.S. Senater.

The criticism is centered chiefly on Alameel's past contributions to Republican candidates. In an attempt to counteract those criticisms, Alameel last week told The Texas Tribune he wanted a refund of those contributions. As it so happens, the current U.S. senator, John Cornyn, has received $8,000 from Alameel. The incumbent took advantage of the opportunity to send a tongue-in-cheek letter to Alameel in which he regretfully declined the request for a refund.

Newsreel: Medina Dollars, Davis Defense, Lt. Gov. Debate

In this edition of the Newsreel: Debra Medina lays out how much money she has raised for her comptroller campaign, Wendy Davis defends her personal résumé and the candidates for lieutenant governor square off.

Inside Intelligence: About that Race for Lite Guv...

After the Republicans running for lieutenant governor held a televised debate, we asked the insiders for a political assessment of the race.

To be quick about it, they think there will be a runoff, and they are skeptical about the electoral chances for the Democrat in the race, Sen. Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio. Only 24 percent give her a chance of winning.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst is the front-runner among the insiders, who chose him and Sen. Dan Patrick of Houston as the two candidates most likely to make a runoff. They also said Patrick was the most likely challenger to knock off the incumbent in a runoff, but then turned around and said he would be by far the weakest of the four Republicans to face Van de Putte in a general election.

We collected their verbatim comments as we went along and a full set of those is attached. Here’s a sampling:


Do you think there will be a Republican runoff for lieutenant governor?

• "With 4 skillful candidates fighting for a single spot on the ballot, 'heading for a runoff' is about the only reliable prediction we can make about this race at this point."

• "Seemed almost certain there would be a runoff a few weeks ago, but the challengers are falling short of expectations."

• "Dewhurst Nightmare on Main Street, II. Run-off with Patrick. Will Ted Cruz get to interview Danny Goeb?"

• "Patrick, Patterson and Staples all have significant constituencies -- enough in total to force a runoff."

• "Dewhurst will likely win outright, IF he opens up his wallet."

• "Let's see if the Dew has his mojo back."

• "Has to be. Too many names."


If there is a Republican runoff for lieutenant governor, which two candidates will be in it?

• "The Dew is in because he has the money to compete. Patrick is in because he knows how to handle the circus of a republican primary."

• "Patterson's debate performance will get him a fresh look and more than a few dollars; Patrick's toxic cocktail of piety and moral relativism may have done him in; it's a toss-up whether the establishment will stick with Staples or retreat back to Dewhurst."

• "Patterson will get the most votes in the class clown competition, but won't break 12 percent in the popular vote."

• "Could be either Patterson or Patrick in a runoff with Dewhurst."

• "Patterson and Staples have screwed each other; if only one of them was in the race, they might be able to consolidate the ABP (Anybody But Patrick) opposition. Instead, they will split it and both get less than 15% of the vote."

• "David Dewhurst vs. What's His Name"


If there is a runoff and David Dewhurst is in it, who has the best chance against him?

• "As the insiders' comments on the last Dewhurst race showed, our group isn't very good at predicting Republican runoffs."

• "The business community would get behind Staples. Early fall, the inside intelligence group was hoping the Dew would resign into the sunset because they wanted a pro-business, level headed candidate to support."

• "I am picking Patterson because he's right for the job and you didn't offer an, 'any of them' option."

• "I used to think any of the three could beat Dewhurst in a run-off. But Patterson and Staples are clearly not ready for prime time. Patrick has the only real shot at beating Dewhurst."

• "Depends on if they have resources. Runoffs are bad for incumbents, so anyone that would make it would probably have a puncher's chance."


Which Republican candidate would be weakest in a general election race against Democrat Leticia Van de Putte?

• "Weak is relative. Any of the four would still be heavily favored, but Patrick is the most extreme."

• "Democrats are hoping for Patrick and it's not because he would lose, but because he would be the one factor that could speed-up Texas turning blue. Patrick is the Texas Pete Wilson and the one person that can push the Reagan Democrats back into voting for democrats."

• "A D might actually win, if Patrick is the nominee."

• "Hypothetically, it's Patrick. But this is a nonsensical question, because there is a 0.00% chance of the GOP candidate losing."

• "None of the above would be considered weak against her."

• "The contrasts are too powerful for Patrick."


Do you think Van de Putte can win in the general election?

• "Democrats need to have a full slate, including Van de Putte, for 2 major reasons - and the likelihood of winning is not one of them. Reason #1 - A full slate is important for rebuilding efforts. #2 - A Republican candidate might self destruct and hand the seat to a Democrat by default."

• "Texas is very conservative and very Republican and Van de Putte is not nearly a transcendent enough candidate."

• "Not unless Patrick is the nominee, and probably not in that event, either."

• "When Texans learn how LIBERAL she is, they'll turn out for the Republican."

• "VDP is not on the ticket to win. Ds are just using her to get Hispanic and female votes. They could care less about her campaign. Check out her fundraising numbers. There ain't a rich west Austin doctor writing VDP a million dollar check."

• "If all the stars align. She is a far better politician than any of the Rs on the ballot."

Our thanks to this week's participants: Gene Acuna, Cathie Adams, Brandon Aghamalian, Jenny Aghamalian, Victor Alcorta, Brandon Alderete, Clyde Alexander, George Allen, Jay Arnold, Charles Bailey, Dave Beckwith, Andrew Biar, Allen Blakemore, Tom Blanton, Chris Britton, Blaine Bull, David Cabrales, Lydia Camarillo, Kerry Cammack, Marc Campos, Thure Cannon, Snapper Carr, Janis Carter, Corbin Casteel, William Chapman, Elizabeth Christian, Elna Christopher, Harold Cook, Beth Cubriel, Randy Cubriel, Curtis Culwell, Denise Davis, Hector De Leon, Nora Del Bosque, Glenn Deshields, Holly DeShields, Tom Duffy, David Dunn, Richard Dyer, Jeff Eller, John Esparza, Jon Fisher, Wil Galloway, Norman Garza, Dominic Giarratani, Bruce Gibson, Stephanie Gibson, Scott Gilmore, Eric Glenn, Daniel Gonzalez, Jim Grace, John Greytok, Jack Gullahorn, Clint Hackney, Wayne Hamilton, Bill Hammond, Richard Hardy, John Heasley, Ken Hodges, Steve Holzheauser, Billy Howe, Laura Huffman, Deborah Ingersoll, Mark Jones, Robert Jones, Robert Kepple, Richard Khouri, Tom Kleinworth, Ramey Ko, Sandy Kress, Dale Laine, Nick Lampson, Pete Laney, Bill Lauderback, James LeBas, Luke Legate, Leslie Lemon, Richard Levy, Ruben Longoria, Matt Mackowiak, Luke Marchant, Bryan Mayes, Dan McClung, Mike McKinney, Robert Miller, Steve Minick, Bee Moorhead, Mike Moses, Steve Murdock, Keir Murray, Richard Murray, Nelson Nease, Keats Norfleet, Pat Nugent, Todd Olsen, Nef Partida, Gardner Pate, Robert Peeler, Jerry Philips, Tom Phillips, Allen Place, Gary Polland, Jay Propes, Ted Melina Raab, Karen Reagan, Tim Reeves, Patrick Reinhart, David Reynolds, Carl Richie, Kim Ross, Grant Ruckel, Jason Sabo, Luis Saenz, Andy Sansom, Jim Sartwelle, Barbara Schlief, Stan Schlueter, Bruce Scott, Robert Scott, Christopher Shields, Jason Skaggs, Martha Smiley, Todd Smith, Larry Soward, Leonard Spearman, Dennis Speight, Jason Stanford, Bill Stevens, Bob Strauser, Colin Strother, Sherry Sylvester, Gerard Torres, Trey Trainor, Vicki Truitt, Corbin Van Arsdale, Ware Wendell, Ken Whalen, David White, Darren Whitehurst, Seth Winick, Alex Winslow, Peck Young, Angelo Zottarelli.

The Calendar

Friday, Jan. 31

  • Fundraiser for state Senate candidate Konni Burton, featuring Rafael Cruz; River Ranch Stockyards, Austin (7 p.m.) 
  • Birthday celebration for U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee; Heights Theater, Houston (6:30-8:30 p.m.)

Monday, Feb. 3

  • Last day to register to vote for the March 4 primary
  • Fundraiser for state Rep. Marisa Márquez; Ruth's Chris Steak House, Austin (5-6:30 p.m.)
  • Fundraiser for state House candidate Bruce Tough; Austin Club (11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.)
  • Fundraiser for Texas Supreme Court Justice Jeff Brown; La Griglia, Houston (5:30-7:30 p.m.)

Tuesday, Feb. 4

  • Fundraiser for state Sen. Kel Seliger; Austin Club (4:30-6 p.m.)
  • Texas House Democratic Campaign Committee reception; Austin Club (4:30-6:30 p.m.)

Thursday, Feb. 6

  • Texas House Leadership Fund reception featuring Speaker Joe Straus and Speaker Pro Tem Dennis Bonnen; Austin Club (5-7 p.m.)
  • Fundraiser for state Sen. Donna Campbell; Austin Club (4:30-6 p.m.)
  • Fundraiser for state Rep. Alma Allen; Austin Club (4:30-6:30 p.m.)
  • Fundraiser for state Rep. Travis Clardy; Austin Club (11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.)

The Week in the Rearview Mirror

Saying she’d “had enough,” state Sen. Wendy Davis unloaded on Attorney General Greg Abbott on Tuesday night, blaming him and his allies for waging a smear campaign against her family. Davis used the occasion of a Travis County Democratic Party fundraiser to address criticism of certain aspects of her life story and to try to turn the page on the controversy "once and for all."

GOP gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott said on Saturday at an anti-abortion rally that his opponent, Wendy Daviswas fighting to “return Texas to late-term abortion on demand.” The reference was to Davis' filibuster of an abortion regulation bill over the summer. Abbott never mentioned Davis by name, though, referring to her just as a “little-known state senator” who rose to stardom through her filibuster.

The four GOP candidates for lite guv — David Dewhurst, Dan Patrick, Jerry Patterson and Todd Staples — spent this week's statewide televised debate staking out conservative positions on wedge issues like abortion, immigration and end-of-life issues.

Democrat Celia Israel defeated Republican Mike VanDeWalle on Tuesday in a special election runoff for House District 50. She will serve the remainder of former state Rep. Mark Strama's term. Israel and VanDeWalle are on course for a rematch in November as they are both unopposed in their party primaries.

U.S. Senate candidate Steve Stockman resurfaced on Monday after extended absences from the campaign trail. The congressman said he had been on a 10-day congressional delegation visit to Egypt, Israel and Russia. In a statement, he was critical of media coverage of attempts to contact him, saying that media outlets knew where he was.

Political People and their Moves

Bret Griffin of Friendswood was appointed by Gov. Rick Perry as judge of the 212th District Court in Galveston County for a term to expire at the next general election.

Lindsey Scott of Nederland was appointed by Perry as judge of the 252nd District Court in Jefferson County for a term to expire at the next general election.

Cory J.H. Crenshaw of Beaumont was appointed by Perry as Jefferson County criminal district attorney for a term to expire at the next general election.

TxDOT chief of staff Scott Haywood is moving on. He will join Move Texas Forward next week as the group's president. Move Texas Forward, a project begun by several former Texas transportation commissioners — Ned Holmes, Deirdre Delisi, Bill Meadows and Henry Muñoz — is working to build support for the constitutional amendment on the ballot in November that would dedicate close to $1.4 billion annually for road and highway projects.

Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht on Sunday became the longest-serving justice in the court's history. He broke the record for service of the late Chief Justice Joe R. Greenhill, who served 25 years and 25 days before his retirement in October 1982. Hecht's tenure on the bench began Jan. 1, 1989.


Adelfa Botello Callejo, 90, Dallas attorney, civic leader and nationally recognized Hispanic civil rights activist

Quotes of the Week

Greg Abbott and his folks have picked a fight with the wrong Texas gal if they think that I will shrink from working to fight for a just and right future for all Texans. I will keep fighting hard — no matter what the other side throws at me.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis jabbing back hard at critics who have seized on discrepanices in her life story to say she's unfit for office

Frankly, a citizen who cannot carry a firearm is not much of a citizen. Frankly, he’s a serf.

Lieutenant governor candidate Jerry Patterson in Monday's televised debate, speaking on the importance of Second Amendment rights

Stockman and State Department officials met with and held press conferences with foreign leaders on matters of U.S. interests. ... Stockman also used the official trip to expose the partisan bias of the American media, who claimed they did not know where he was.

U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Friendswood, explaining the reason for his absence from the campaign trail — he'd been on a 10-day official visit to Egypt, Israel and Russia

Money attracts consultants like honey attracts bees.

Political consultant Mark McKinnon on why Texas races attract the top consultant talent from across the nation

The question is, Are we prepared to say as lawyers that a man who is no longer considered moral enough to be a journalist is moral enough to be a lawyer? If people flame out in journalism because of dishonesty, is the law open to them? I think the answer is no.

New York University legal ethics professor Stephen Gillers on what makes disgraced journalist Stephen Glass' attempts to remake himself as a lawyer compelling to the world at large